Stick people following a leaderDr Brent Davies, Professor Emeritus at the University of Hull addresses this question succinctly and eloquently by referring to the Anglo-Saxon noun ‘lād’ with a long ‘a’, which means a course, way or journey and the verb ‘lǽdan’ which is to lead or mark. He concludes that leadership may therefore be constructed as “one who shows others the way on a journey.”

Likewise, Warren Bennis in his book the Basic Ingredients of Leadership suggests that key ingredients for leadership include: a guiding vision, passion, integrity, trust, curiosity, daring which are echoed and added to by others. For example in Max DePree’s Attributes of Leadership he adds: integrity, vulnerability, discernment, awareness of the human spirit, courage in relationships, sense of humour, intellectual energy and curiosity, comfort with ambiguity.

Boyett & Boyett in The Guru Guide: The Best Ideas of the Top Management Thinkers conclude what is common to all leaders is ‘willing followers’ and that “having willing followers is the only thing which clearly differentiates leaders from non-leaders.”

So how can you demonstrate safety leadership and develop a team of willing followers?

One way to do this is to involve yourself in a structured programme of informal safety conversations with your colleagues and not just your direct reporting line. Such an approach allows you as a leader to demonstrate the attributes below and many of the ingredients mentioned in the academic works above.

  • Be visible
  • Engage with colleagues
  • Build trust
  • Share honest, constructive feedback
  • Recognise people’s contributions
  • Build relationships (a following)
  • Involve people in the issues of the day
  • Give support to colleagues
  • Set standards
  • Challenge and question others’ behaviour

Go on, give it a go. You’ll be surprised what you discover about the reality of your organisation – both what’s good and what’s holding back people and progress.